August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Grooming can be a pleasant and positive bonding experience for you and your cat. It mimics the social behavior of cats that get along and groom each other. However, some cats do not enjoy being groomed by humans at all, and others will initially enjoy grooming but become aggressive during the process. This can be a serious problem if the cat requires regular grooming to stay healthy. It is very important to be cautious when grooming an aggressive cat. Injuries from scratching or biting can be severe and serious.

It is critical to watch closely for subtle changes in your cat's body language when grooming any cat. Cats vary in the extent to which they like grooming or handling, and for how long they tolerate these things. Intense grooming can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.

If your cat enjoys grooming but then turns aggressive during the session, pay close attention to if there are certain areas where your cat does not like to be groomed. Most cats do not like their belly touched. Other sensitive areas include the back and tail area. Stay away from these areas when you groom or touch. If your cat turns aggressive when touched at a certain area, it could be a sign of serious pain that needs to be examined by a veterinarian. If your cat has matted fur, they might have to clipped by a professional animal groomer, as brushing might hurt the skin.

Here are some ways to help you develop a positive grooming routine with your cat:

  • Work with a professional and make a gradual plan to get the cat comfortable with grooming.
  • If your cat turns aggressive during brushing, determine how your cat reacts when they see the brush come out. If your cat does not react aggressively or fearfully, introduce the brush in multiple short sessions with a favorite treat.
  • If your cat can tolerate short sessions of petting or grooming, groom only as long as they tolerate it well, and always end on a good note.
  • Observe for signs of overstimulation and impending aggression. Common signals to look for include: tail swishing, skin twitching over the back, flattened ears, freezing, tenseness or staring, dilated pupils, low growl, or walking away and lying down. Pay close attention to other environmental changes such as loud noises and other animals and people entering the room.
  • Stop grooming at the first sign of any of these early warning signals. Calmly put your hands down by your sides. If your cat is very agitated, walk away. If your cat is on your lap, stand up slowly and let your cat gently slide off.
  • Wait some time before attempting to groom again. Some cats only take a few minutes to settle down; others can take several hours. Make sure all signals of irritation have stopped. This can help decrease the arousal to touch, while still allowing you to interact.
  • Only groom your cat in the areas they truly enjoy. Most cats like to rub their faces or bodies on an offered brush, but do not appreciate long strokes over their bodies. It is important to know your cat. If they generally get aggressive when petting their tail base, then stay around their head for petting.
  • Never punish; it will not help, and it will only make your cats more aggressive and fearful.

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.